Kangeiko is a cold, winter morning practice. The dojo may be at 14ºC, if we’re lucky. Those who slept in the dojo are rubbing the sleep from their eyes or stretching half-heartedly. I have walked over from my house where I slept in my own comfortable bed, snuggled under my warm blankets. Have I developed masochistic tendencies? Am I a hypocrite to take part in Kangeiko? Neither, I say, for I, too, had to get up around 4:15 am to attend practice and trudge through snow in sub-zero temperatures. For what? For the opportunity to practice aikido techniques with cold muscles, a groggy mind, and myriad sleepy-head partners? I don’t think so. These practitioners, my partners, are fully awake and ready for action. After a warmup period, everyone is just as ready at 5 am as they would be if it were 5 pm. If anything, everyone is more energised. No one has yet endured the cacophony of breakfast with pre-schooolers, or the boss’s prattle, or the hectic pace of a day in the proverbial salt mines. This is THEIR time. This is OUR time.
We take our places in the corners of the dojo to practice the techniques-du-jour. In one corner, a heavy bag just hangs there like a teenager at the mall. Except that the bag is repeatedly assaulted with a barrage of punches and kicks, a pre-emptive taking out of daily frustrations, if you will, perhaps thinking of said teenager. In another corner, a tai sabaki exercise where a few milliseconds of dawdling will reward you with a thwack of a tombo to the shoulder or to the head from partners who may be thinking that you are their teenager. In the other corners we work on techniques to dispatch those who are overly clingy, or to thwart undesired advances. We rotate from one corner to the next like a band on a whirlwind tour, practicing our techniques on our in-house groupies.
We all have our reasons for participating in kangeiko. Masochism is definitely not one of them. As much as the notion of taking out one’s frustrations pre-emptively is appealing, to do so would necessitate keeping in mind those frustrations. This early in the morning my mind is clear and my intentions are honourable. I intend no harm to body, soul, bag, or teenager. They are out of my mind, and I am not. This is MY time.